In the 70s, 80s and early 90s many people believed that Wicca, Druidry and Asatru were ancient belief systems rediscovered intact and that we as modern Pagans were the heirs to these practices. Then this mist of belief began to fade as scholars such as Ronald Hutton began to dig deeper into the origin myths that had been built upon in preceding years, and slowly it became apparent that much of what we held as ancient practice had in fact been created by Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Aleister Crowley, the Golden Dawn, Iolo Morganwg and Ross Nichols to name just a few. And thus our new journey began.
To achieve validation some turned to archaeology and ancient history texts to recreate a more authentically ancient version of their path. Others delved deeper into the available ancient stories, poetry and myths. Others took comfort that at least the provable roots of their tradition (Druidry) was 300 years ago, a good deal older than Wicca which obviously had its roots only in the 1950s. Some people began to literally fall out with each other over these details. Reconstructionism became more valid to some because there was provable evidence of ancient practices. Some dropped their previous practices because they discovered they didn’t have ancient roots and were deemed to be somehow fake. Others held on to these practices because to them they worked, and their ancient pedigree was not the primary importance.
Then we had the flame wars, the ‘there are no Druids anymore’ type blow outs. Still I see some people only able to validate their own paths by putting down the validity of others. I think this was what led me to write this blog post a month or so ago. I heard a discussion where the purity of race became more important than the simple spiritual message a speaker was trying to offer. And this thread has really stayed with me. I’ve been mulling it over ever since. Just the other day I read someone bemoan modern Paganism’s lack of achievement – and it really got me thinking.
This is my conclusion.
Modern Paganism is really just around 60 years old. I know that we can say modern Druidry can trace its roots back to the 1700s, but in truth what we as modern Druids are doing now has only really been around since the 70s or early 60s at the most. Before then it was a more masonic-style club with no real Pagan direction. I suppose you could push our roots back a little more to the Golden Dawn, but realistically that’s about it without a lot of tenuous links, or wishful thinking. So…
Paganism is very young.
It is. To some that’s a problem when it comes to validation. But it’s true. No amount of reconstruction will make what we do now any more ancient than any other modern Pagan path. We’ve lost the thread, but that’s ok because what we are doing now is different, it is ours, for our time and place. What makes it valid is us and our connection with it, not its age.
So our worldwide Pagan community is very much a child, finding its feet, learning how to walk, learning how to talk and communicate. We’ve got to go through this, and then we have to go through adolescence, and only then into adulthood. How long do we think it took Catholicism to come of age? Was it a born, a ready-made religion straight from birth? When Catholicism was 60 years old what was it like? What was Buddhism like 60 years on from the Buddha? Or Hinduism? What was Christianity like in 60AD? What I find deeply exciting is that we are here, right from the start! We are the ancients to future generations. What we do and how we are with each other now will affect the way others practice in hundreds of years time. That is a deep responsibility, one I take extremely seriously. But it should be no surprise that modern Paganism sometimes acts like a child, because it is still a child.
I’ve seen some people leave Paganism because of the actions of the community. They haven’t found the groundedness they needed, or they didn’t find the direction they needed, or the actions/words of some within the community to them betrayed the youthfulness of the path and they lost their connection. Paganism isn’t right for everyone. That’s ok. It’s all a part of us learning how to walk, how to be with each other holding such personal beliefs, yet also remain in community. When I look at it like this I see that we are all really the parents of this child ‘Pagan’.
One thing is for sure. Paganism will not reach adulthood in this lifetime. We are laying the foundation for others to take the flame into the future. So let’s be nurturing parents, not angry and criticising ones. Me, I want to nurture this child. I want to enjoy watching it play, seeing it grow, to be there, and to be a person that this child can look back at in hundreds of years and happily say, “There’s one of my Dads”.